The disgraced baron's public shaming highlights the need to modernise the upper chamber, says a Liberal Democrat peerby Kishwer Falkner / July 30, 2015 / Leave a comment
Members of the House of Lords tend to dread the Sunday newspapers as they periodically reveal the less salubrious aspects of our colleagues’ behaviour. Last weekend’s scandal involving the crossbench peer Lord Sewel in the Sun on Sunday has stunned us both in its sheer improbability and its contemptuous depiction of us from within our own ranks. For me, leaving aside the cringe-inducing embarrassment of a fellow peer clearly making a fool of himself, it has carried a personal hurt—I am an Asian woman and a London-based peer—both categories he picked on with particular vitriol. In the video accompanying the online version of the story he asks if there will be any “nice little young Asian women” at the party, before adding, “they sort of look innocent but you know they are whores”.
Leaving aside the personal, I lodged a formal complaint with the Lords Commissioner for Standards, on the basis of our Code of Conduct. As far as I know, the complaint will still be investigated.
But this sorry episode has raised questions about the Lords again. The late Conrad Russell, a hereditary peer in the House of Lords posed a question about Lords reform—what was it we wanted, accountability or legitimacy? We couldn’t have both. If we wanted an accountable House of Lords, then we would have to run a parallel chamber to the Commons with constituents and defined boundaries, which would encroach on Commons sovereignty. If we settled for legitimacy, then it would be possible to reform the Lords through electing members in a different way to the Commons and leaving the powers between the two institutions untouched.
The consensus about Lords reform, such as it was over the three main parties’ election manifestos until 2015, settled around seeking legitimacy for the institution. But that was stalled by the collapse of the ill-fated Lord’s Reform Bill of 2012, proposed by Nick Clegg, which would have resulted in a mainly elected upper chamber. So we continue in a state of limbo with an ever-expanding Lords that is set to reach around 835 sitting peers before the end of the year.
With renewed public debate about the value of the House of Lords, it is worth looking at what a revising and…